A Short Body Love Story: Why My Voice Matters More than Theirs
According to the Oxford dictionary, own means have something as one’s own or possess. It’s been about two and a half years since I actively began reading books about feminist theory and manifestos, watching documentaries about female emancipation, going to women’s rights demonstration carrying around huge posters, and defining myself as a feminist. My favorite slogan is and always will be: my body is mine. Because yes, I technically do own my body. But it hasn’t always felt this way, and I sure have a long way to go, before I can claim true and absolute ownership of my body.
It wasn’t until I realized my opinion of my body had come from outside of myself that I understood, I do not fully own my body — or, rather, a male gaze dominated narrative together with my personal experiences have convinced me, growing up, of things about my body shape and image that I am now finally succeeding at dismantling. I did not choose to disown my body to then reclaim ownership over it, but that’s just what happened to me over the years, and I fear it’s happened to most girls I know.
Looking back at my pre-teenage and teenage years, I can now confidently say that boys and men have been the ones who’ve triggered my insecurities the most. And I am not trying to say men are to blame for women’s insecurities, because I don’t believe that at all — in fact, I think men are victims of society’s patriarchal standards just as much as women — I am just acknowledging that the way men are raised to socialize with young girls and women, and comment on their bodies, is (SO) wrong. Some of the men in my life have taught me amazing things, have given me joy and love and confidence, even a deeper awareness of myself. But some of them have also, at times subconsciously, forced me to look at myself in the mirror and think “something’s wrong and unlovable, something’s got to change.”
Once I gained weight because of travelling around for a few months, and X, my boyfriend at the time, started insisting that I looked so much prettier when I was skinnier. Sitting at a café, X’s friend told him he thought I had lost some weight, and X told his friend not to compliment me yet so that I wouldn’t get too excited and keep trying to lose more weight. I was there as they had that conversation, and I took it really seriously. I kept being on a diet for many more months, hungry for X’s approval. Maybe I took it the wrong way, maybe I made a big deal out of it. But my teenage hopes for validation were destroyed just as soon as X, or any other male around, would think of me as fat.
I remember when Y, a guy I used to go out with, was telling me how proportionate my body looks. His compliment left me feeling happy — for, again, for most of my teenage to young womanhood years I felt disproportionately satisfied any time a guy would tell me I looked good. But then, as I was taking a shower, Y hesitated and added that, to be completely honest, my ass was not fit enough, and it kind of just ruined the whole thing. More squats will do the job! And so I started seeing running and exercising as a way to tone my ass, to make it “firm,” to make it likable.
During most of high school, I used to go to the gym a couple times a week, and loved wearing tight leggings and oversized t-shirts. Once, as I was working out and focusing mainly on legs exercises, instructor H came closer to me and started feeling my legs, arms, and belly with a light, and what seemed to 16-years-old me a professional, completely formal touch. H smiled at me, and said “You’re going to age well, just keep those thighs under control…You’re too sexy to waste it all” — he said that as the most natural thing he could’ve said, and I believed him. Later, he told me from the way my body looked he could tell I had a “strong sexual appetite.” That left me lost for words, beyond disgusted, and I stopped going to the gym.
So here I am, 22 years old, trying to break free from all this BS. It is painful, and time heals. As I look at myself in the mirror, I feel beautiful and broken at the same time. I recall being told I am too unfit, too tall, too thick, too curvy, too provocative, not provocative enough, too sensual and therefore slutty, not well dressed enough, too much make up, too smart to be so pretty but too pretty to be so smart — just too much, or never enough. It’s sickening but still empowering to see how much unlearning there’s to do for me and my fellow sisters. What’s helping me the most in the process so far is to realize that men who comment on my body inappropriately do not validate nor define me. MY BODY IS MINE, ergo I am the only one who’s entitled to define it, move it, use it, honor it, name it, please it.
Despite the fact that it’s difficult to shut their voices down, I let the power of my own voice overcome theirs. I embrace the fact that if a man is making the choice to put me down or judge me with his words, that’s most likely coming from a place of deep insecurity and hurting. And that needs to be talked about. As I fight against these body demons, I feel like I finally understand why the slogan my body is mine is such a powerful one, for so many reasons. Each woman has her personal one, but they all have a common denominator.
Our bodies are real, growing, stretching, becoming; a physical form of the female magic that unfolds underneath our skin. Listening to that truthful, intimate voice is not easy, for sometimes it echoes past insecurities and talks about body-hate. BUT, I find my strength in trying harder everyday, in speaking to my body with kindness and admiration, determined re-own my divine imperfectly unique body.